This week marks the 10-year anniversary of the uprising that overthrew the four-decade dictatorship of Muammar Qaddafi. In the intervening decade, Libya has been mired in conflict and political gridlock, exacerbated by competing power centers and longstanding tribal hostilities. What’s more, a host of foreign powers have entered the fray, looking to pursue their own interests rather than build a peaceful Libya. While there is momentum toward peace in recent months, Libyans will have to decide for themselves how to arrive at reconciliation and build a roadmap to get to a sustainable peace. But what does that look like?
When American politicians want to temper voter’s concerns over U.S. military commitments overseas, many employ perhaps the most worn-out foreign policy cliché: “The United States cannot police the world.” After all, the United States has neither the capacity nor a compelling national interest in putting boots on the ground to resolve every global crisis. But, this begs the question: Who will step forward when boots on the ground are needed?
Last week, President Biden held a call with General Secretary Xi Jinping, China’s paramount leader. They reportedly talked for more than two hours, a length that, combined with the call readouts, suggests a weighty and potentially heated conversation. Ties between Washington and Beijing have become strained in recent years as the world’s two biggest powers locked horns over geopolitics, technology, economics, and values. Bilateral relations have entered a new and more difficult phase—even as the global environment is characterized by many pressing issues that would benefit from cooperative efforts to address them. In this context, U.S. policymakers will face six major challenges in dealing with China.
The United Nations General Assembly in January adopted a noteworthy resolution, “Promoting a Culture of Peace and Tolerance to Safeguard Religious Sites,” highlighting the often-ignored nexus between protection of cultural heritage and preservation of religious pluralism and peaceful coexistence. The resolution’s aims are broad, calling for “strengthened international efforts to foster a global dialogue on the promotion of a culture of tolerance and peace at all levels.” But it also mandates the U.N. secretary-general to convene an international conference focusing on the “United Nations Plan of Action to Safeguard Religious Sites.”
At present, the Afghan peace negotiations (APN) between the Afghan government and the Taliban do not involve any third-party presence beyond hosting and supporting roles. The parties to the conflict and members of the international community might consider the benefits of a neutral, third-party mediator to help resolve the impasses that have dogged and delayed the negotiations so far. While the presence of a mediator does not guarantee success, there are very few examples of a significant peace agreement that has been reached without some sort of third-party facilitation or mediation.
Five years into Russia’s military intervention in Syria, understanding Moscow’s endgame could provide critical insights into the decade-long conflict’s trajectory, as well as Russia’s posture in the Middle East and beyond. Although still evolving and subject to internal debates, Moscow’s Syria strategy appears to be centered on a “spheres of influence” model. In this model, Syria is divided into distinct realms under the sway of competing external patrons.
When in doubt, dispatch an envoy. That’s become an old diplomatic standby, and it is currently under consideration for the Horn of Africa, where a civil war rages in Ethiopia and has ensnared neighboring Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan. The conflict, which broke out in November 2020, has left millions in dire need of lifesaving humanitarian assistance. The U.N. special adviser on the prevention of genocide recently warned that “the risk of atrocity crimes in Ethiopia remains high and likely to get worse.” If the crisis continues to fester, it will have grave consequences for U.S. interests in a region situated on the crossroads between Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.
Many peace processes experience at least short-term reversions to violence. Even a successful Afghan peace process will be at risk of the same, especially in the likely event that the United States and its allies continue to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Ideally, such troop reductions would move in parallel with de-escalatory measures by the Taliban and other armed actors on the ground. A healthy dose of realism is in order, however. Though the Taliban and others in Afghanistan are unlikely to ever fully disarm or demobilize, persistent resources and attention from the United States and its allies can help prevent any regression to full-scale violence during the years of any peace agreement’s implementation.
Weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to dramatically upgrade his nuclear arsenal, the Biden administration is reviewing U.S. policy on North Korea. A reality check is overdue. The Trump administration’s headline-grabbing threats and summits were just new packaging for the decades-old approach of expecting Beijing’s help to pressure Pyongyang to surrender its nuclear program. This failed again, and North Korea’s threatening capabilities grew. The Biden administration should—and can—establish a more pragmatic, realistic policy to urgently counter this threat, shore up stability, avoid war and advance a deeper, longer game of fundamental change in North Korea.
The announcement on February 8 of a new Cabinet in Khartoum—the product of a peace accord signed by Sudan’s transitional government with several armed groups in October 2020 through a deal brokered by South Sudan—offers hope that the broader inclusion of political leaders can help address Sudan’s pressing challenges and create peace dividends. Unfortunately, the lengthy process of selecting new Cabinet members revealed additional fractures among both signatories to the peace deal and civilian political elements that seemingly offer competing visions for the transition and beyond.